Monday, 19 October 2015

Combiner Wars Superion

This being the toyline called 'Combiner Wars', of course there's more to it than just groups of individual Deluxes with a Voyager class team leader. These things do actually combine to form gestalt robots and, unlike Generation 1's diminutive combiners, the size class of the components involved means that the combined mode is pretty colossal by the standards of contemporary TransFormers toys - easily exceeding what now passes for Leader class.

But we all know these gestalts are big... are they actually any good?

Combined Mode:
Superion and the Aerialbots were one of the teams I didn't pick up back in the 80s. I can't remember now whether I passed him up out of choice - neither the gestalt nor its components really looked that good - or just because I didn't see the Aerialbots when I went toy shopping back in those days - I seem to recall lots of toyshops closing quite suddenly in those days. The closest I got was the Superlink version, which I happened to find in Forbidden Planet around my birthday one year, when I had - very fortuitously - been given £50 of Forbidden Planet vouchers by my work colleagues.

Either way, when the first images of Combiner Wars Superion emerged online, I wasn't overly impressed - he looked awkward and oddly-proportioned due to the way Silverbolt's body transformed into torso mode. Worse still, he seemed just as weirdly spindly as the original. The inclusion of Superion's traditional antennae as a single rubber piece was a bit of a downer, but that turned out to be easily fixed. Ultimately, though, photos only tell you so much (though that won't stop me inflicting my photos on you below!)... and I have to say that Superion in-hand is pretty damned impressive.

The completed gestalt actually manages to look like a single, coherent robot, despite being made up of five individuals. I suspect this is partly due to how comparatively plain the Superion torso is - basically just large, unbroken areas of white and red, with the only detail coming from the moldings. Superion's chest is formed from the outsides of Silverbolt's legs, which hinge forward and in together, closing up with a barely noticeable seam. The broad shoulders lead nicely into the arms which, for the most part, look to be in proportion with the body, though the Deluxe robot's arms tend to be quite obvious however they're dealt with (which varies from limb to limb). The legs aren't quite so good, somehow seeming a little bit too short, mostly because his fists reach near enough down to his knees. The colourschemes are largely complementary, though it does seem strange that the lower legs have to be mounted jet side forward to allow the knees to bend, considering the colourschemes of the robots' chests would make Superion look even more consistent.

The joints are solid and well-placed - the new-style ratcheting shoulders are a huge improvement on G1's brick-like arms-on-stalks; the use of each Deluxe's waist and leg articulation for bicep swivel and elbow bend is very effective; the knees do their job, and Silverbolt's arms make effective - if rather skinny - thighs. Due to the way Silverbolt was designed, neither he nor Superion offer waist articulation, but the combination of joints from the hips down cover most of the important dynamic movements. One thing that did strike me is that, with the combiner port lined up with the back of the 'calves' and the socket right on the front of the thigh, the way his legs come together looks quite precarious, reminding me of G1 Predaking, whose body seems to slant backwards from the knee due to the way his components connected.

On the subject of the knees, since putting him together, I've barely noticed the fact that Silverbolt's hands hang very conspicuously off the backs of his knees. They're obvious... but not in-your-face obvious, and they don't impede the movement of his legs in the slightest.

The head sculpt is a perfectly serviceable update of the G1 head, albeit with the 'face' tending more toward the animation model than the toy's appearance. Its only articulation comes via a pin in the neck, but it rotates freely enough that the lack of any tilt isn't overly bothersome.

Unfortunately, the one truly new and innovative feature of Combiner Wars - the hand/foot weapons packaged with each of the Deluxes - is its greatest weakness. Not only are the weapons completely unwieldy for their individual robot modes and of limited use in their alternate modes, they're also not too convincing as hands or feet.

OK, let me backpeddle just a little. As hands, they're not a complete loss... but the weapon aspect of the mold is overly large. Smaller, and they might have worked as ballistic knuckledusters... as they are, they just look clumsy. They also have enormous thumbs compared to the (very flat, single-piece, single-hinged) 'fingers', which doesn't help their look. They may be a massive step up from Superlink (pretty good stuff in only five years and with Power Core Combiners as the only practice step along the way), but they're completely underachieving considering what the Third Parties have been able to come up with. Granted, they don't have the same constraints on budgets and parts counts, yet I'm certain Hasbro/Takara Tomy could have done better. Given that Silverbolt's weapons come with standard 5mm pegs, the inclusion of a 5mm socket just inside the thumb is actually quite a clever solution to the problem of getting these larger hands to grip their weapons and, with the 'shield' piece on the back of the complete Superion gun, you wouldn't know he wasn't holding the gun actually in his hand unless you went looking.

These innovative new dual-purpose pieces are only a true failure as feet, since they offer next to zero stability in any position other than 'standing to attention'. Depending on the surface they're standing on, they're as likely to leave Superion doing the splits as they are to support any dramatic poses, as there's no ankle tilt and precious little worthwhile footprint. The thumb/heel can be positioned in an attempt to offer some extra stability, but it very rarely works to any useful degree, and they all have a tendency to slip out of position. Also, while they look overly large as hands, they look far too small as feet... Which just goes to show that the designers were putting themselves in a no-win situation the moment the decided to make the hands and feet as interchangeable as their associated Deluxe class figures.

Overall, considering the price difference between Hasbro's output and that of the Third Parties, and the fact that Combiner Wars is ultimately aimed mainly at the older kids' market (10-12, about the age I was when TransFormers first hit the UK), rather than at adult collectors, Superion is fantastic. In-hand, he's huge and sturdy, light years ahead of anything I could have imagined back when the G1 'Special Teams' first emerged. This gestalt improves on all its ancestors in every conceivable way, though part of me still feels a little disappointed that Hasbro/Takara Tomy went to such lengths to basically recreate this aspect of the 1980s toyline rather than taking the concept in a new direction. The nostalgia factor may influence many adult collectors, but surely names like 'Superion', 'Menasor', 'Defensor' and 'Bruticus' are essentially meaningless to today's younger fans?

That having been said, I am rather glad Superion became part of Combiner Wars... and I'm extremely glad to have the complete set, despite the lack of an official UK release of Wave 2. It has shown that, within their own constraints, they have taken note of the huge advances the Third Parties have made, and shown more than enough willing to take them on at their own game. The result implements several cost-saving measures, the most innovative and interesting of which ends up being the toyline's most critical flaw but, naturally, there's already a Third Party solution to that...

In general, having been larking about with the completed Superion for a while now, I see lots of exciting potential in the Combiner Wars concept and its execution... Which is weird, considering we already know it will be coming to an end to make way for Titans Return as early as next year...

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